It’s not that the children were bad, they simply could not discern the hard lines that separated right from wrong. They experienced everything in different colored hues that appealed to whatever mood they were in. They craved the green and yellow tones of afternoons spent trampling through flower gardens and exploring the hidden worlds of abandoned barns just as much as they loved the throbbing red and blacks of pulling the wings off of insects. In their minds, the color of these experiences was not separate but all mixed together like paint. It was nothing short of madness keeping up with them.
If asked who among them was the most evil, I would say, without hesitation, little Thomas Porter. He was the second youngest in a brood of seven. A grave child with dark hair and freckles. He was impertinent to his parents, often speaking to them in clipped, concise sentences whenever he made his miniature demands. They humored him, of course, and granted him whatever he wished. He was just so reasonable, so smartly dressed, so charming that there was no way he could be denied.
“Could be a lawyer that Tommie. Too smart for his own good. He’d persuade a man to do anything if he had the mind,” his father would proclaim jovially. His mother, limp and fragrant like a crushed flower, would give a loose smile and gaze in adoration at her little gentleman.
I’ve only ever seen Thomas act kind to one person and that is his baby sister Emily. She was four years old and trailed after her brother like an adoring puppy. She pushed away from her eldest brother, Edward, claiming that he was too boring. She stuck her tongue out at her sisters Isobel and Mary, they were her competition. The twins, Benjamin and Bartholomew, frightened her with their matching faces. The poor girl never saw much of her parents. having been the last child to thoroughly exhaust her mother’s health and with a father who was largely uninterested in his daughters, especially the littlest one. Emily was wholly dependent on the affection of her favorite brother.
I was their nanny, and as such it was my duty to turn these beasties into civilized young people. I have never been more frightened of a task in all of my career. Take for example, the other day when Mary received a new doll while Emily’s own doll collection was in want. It was pure injustice that Mary should receive a doll, with exotic green eyes and crisp gingham dress but Emily only have the same dull dolls to play with. As Emily wept on my lap pouring out the woes of her tender years, Thomas watched all this with a peculiar expression on his face before silently leaving the room. He returned moments later with Mary in tow. Mary approached with the doll clutched to her chest and with gentle prodding’s from Thomas did she extend the doll forward. Emily snatched the doll and without even sparing the toy a glance she dropped it in her toy chest. It was not that she really wanted to play with the doll she simply could not stand her sister having something that she did not.
“It was for the best sister. Look how happy she is now,” Thomas said encouragingly to the hurt party.
Emily was happy. In her own cruel way. She gave the widest smile to her sister who turned and ran out of the room crying.
Yet, all this paled in comparison to the horror they achieved one wet autumn afternoon, as the rainclouds that had plagued the countryside all week took pity on our suffering and drifted off towards the east. The children had been cooped up far too long inside the house and there was a tension growing amongst them at having to endure one another’s company in such close quarters. I felt a sort of tangible relief when I could finally open the terrace doors to let the children outside to play. They invited their neighbor, William Adley (a boy of eight years, shy and desperate to be their friend) along to play with them. They played hide and seek and gave William the job of being the seeker. I collapsed onto a nearby bench and thumbed open a book that I was about halfway through reading when I noticed, with a start, that Thomas and Emily were missing. I called Edward over and asked if he knew where they were.
“Probably still playing inside,” he said scratching his head.
I ventured back inside the house, pausing in front of the nursery door after hearing voices coming from within. I pressed my ear to the door to listen.
“It’s not real if you don’t believe it,” this was Thomas’ voice, somber and flat.
“Are you sure?” Emily asked.
“Absolutely! I’ve read all the books on the subject.”
There was a long silence as Emily considered this.
“But how do I know?” she finally said.
“Let’s test it out,” Edward suggested.
“Wish for something right now and if it comes true then you know it’s real.”
“Alright, but what should I wish for.”
“Something easy, like let’s wish nanny will appear right now.”
“No, I want to wish for something better than silly old nanny. I wish for an apple tart.”
“Is that what you truly want?”
“Then you’ll have it.”
“But nothing happened. Where is my apple tart?” Emily whined.
“Give it time, it won’t just appear out of thin air, don’t be silly Em.”
“Oh,” the girl said. Crestfallen.
Another long silence.
“It’s taking too long. I don’t think it worked.” Emily declared.
“Well, it’s probably because you didn’t believe enough.”
A forlorn wail from Emily, “I did believe. I swear.”
“Wish for something else,” Thomas said.
“I wish that nanny would come here right now to scold you for being mean to me.”
“I don’t like this game anymore.”
I chose that moment to step into the nursery. Two dark-haired head turned towards me. Only Emily looked surprised, her jaw hung open and she threw pointed glances at Thomas.
“Come outside and play with your siblings. I’m sure you two have had enough of being cooped up inside this dusty old room for a week.”
“I prefer the indoors and besides, it wouldn’t be so dusty if you actually cleaned up around here,” Thomas said with a sneer.
I ignored his glib insult and prodded the two out of the room. Once outside they stood awkwardly in the grass, as if unaccustomed to the outdoor world. I waved them on, urging them to play with their brothers and sisters and the little fellow from next door
I slumped back onto the bench to resume my reading. I had become so engrossed in the tale that when I looked back up the garden was empty.
I jumped up in alarm. “Thomas…. Edward…. Iiiiiiiisobel,” I cried with hands cupped around my mouth.
“Benji…dear Barty where are you?” I kept a lighthearted tone to my voice so that no one overhearing me could know of my panic.
They were not in the garden.
I turned wildly about, clutching at my throat. Some preternatural instinct told me to look up, and there above me, I saw five chubby faces peering at me from the attic window. Benjamin, Bartholomew, Mary, Thomas and Emily. Thomas was the only one smiling.
I thought I would faint with relief, but my relief turned immediately to worry as I began to wonder what they could possibly be doing in the attic. I rushed back into the house, do not run, I told myself firmly, I forced my legs to a leisurely stroll and put on a tight smile as I walked inside the house. The maids always kept their eyes on me, ready to wag their tongues of my failings, I would give them no such satisfaction. I gripped the banisters with all my strength, using their solidness to keep me upright. When I arrived at the uppermost height of the manor where the attic stair began, I could hear their voices, high and excited like the chattering of birds. I took the stairs two at a time and flung open the door. But I was too late.
He hung there, as if suspended by the force of his incredulity. He looked down to meet his fate and fell onto the flagstones. He didn’t even scream.
The silence that pressed itself to us after his body hit the ground was thick. I swam through it to make my way to the window. I had to be sure, I had to see.
Emily screamed. Mary fainted. Isobel caught her sister and waved a trembling hand over her face to rouse her. The twins, Bartholomew and Benjamin hung their heads. Edwards sat on a broken footstool and covered his eyes, he wept silently. Thomas, dear Thomas, was the only one seemingly unaffected by the incident.
“What shall you do nanny?” he asked.
I dared another glance at William Adley’s crumpled body. The poor lad had died for the whims of children whom he thought were his friends. The maids ran out to investigate the source of the crash. Their screams joined the raucous choir behind me.
I turned to Thomas, “What happened?”
“We wanted to see if he could fly,” the boy explained.
I looked at each of them in turn, knowing that this was the culmination of all their horrors. There was no coming back from this.
When their parents found out, I was dismissed immediately. I offered no defense as Mr. Porter raged at me. He very nearly hit me, only the presence of the children stilled his hand. He sent them away and poked a fat finger in my face.
“I would gladly kill you myself if there could be no consequence. A child is dead because of you and your madness. For the last damned time, my children are not monsters and if you had just left those five-cent horror stories out of my home this wouldn’t have happened,” he pulled himself up to his full height, “I will see to it that you never nanny for anyone ever again. Now get out of my sight before I strangle you!”
I scurried away. Through the darkness of the foyer, I could still see them. Seated on the stairs, seven pairs of eyes watching me. I left them in the gloom of that house with the echo of a scream still lingering in my ears.